5 reasons why fish farming is just as terrible as wild fishing

(Photo: Animal Outlook)

Farming fish seemed like a good idea for many people who were concerned about biodiversity loss caused by overfishing in the oceans. But now, aquaculture represents 47% of the total fish production worldwide and is about to overtake all capture fisheries by 2024.

Fish farms are factory farms, but underwater. This means that most of the same perverse techniques and strategies used to exploit land animals for the maximum profit possible are also used for fish, shrimps, oysters, and shellfish. These farms can be built in lakes or in the sea, using nets, cages, or in-land, artificially-built ponds. And just like land animal farming, aquaculture creates significant environmental destruction.

Aquaculture is not a more ethical and sustainable way of consuming fish and other sea animals. Here are five reasons why.

1. Fish are sentient beings

Fish are sentient beings with impressive physical and cognitive skills, such as using tools to get food or remembering familiar faces of other fish and humans. Studies show they are capable of forming social bonds, learning from their mistakes, and even interspecies cooperation. This leaves little room to question their ability to feel a range of sensations and emotions, including pain and pleasure. These discoveries mean that what we do to these animals in fish farms is incredibly cruel.

Some species of fish know how to use tools and different strategies to get food, such as opening shells by hitting them against rocks.

2. Fish farms are often crowded and filthy

Fish farms are not much different from land factory farms that exploit chickens, pigs and cattle: Fish are bred and raised in captivity, often with minimal space and severely limited ability to express their natural behaviours, frequently leading to fights and injuries due to the stress caused by the high density. In some farms, underwater cages are even used.

Whether they’re in filthy ponds with poor water quality, or in the sea or lakes, fish are subjected to all kinds of diseases and are left to be eaten alive by all sorts of parasites, from sea lice to fungi. Those who don’t rot to death are slaughtered through asphyxiation, or by being skinned, cut open and gutted alive, among other cruel methods.

3. Fish farms contribute to the irresponsible use of antibiotics

Given the filthy and unsanitary conditions that fish are raised in on aquaculture farms, it's not surprising that they are frequently sick. As a way of preventing diseases and promoting growth, farmers often give them antibiotics — even in marine farms in the sea! Needless to say, this leads to the contamination of the animal products, water and soil, not only with antibiotics themselves, but potentially with antibiotic-resistant bacteria as well.

Scientists say the "presence of antimicrobial drug residues in the edible tissues can cause allergies, toxic effects, changes in the intestinal microbial fauna and acquisition of drug‐resistance" in humans, while some studies point out that even antibiotics banned more than 10 years ago for fish farms in some countries can still be detected in the aquaculture products.

Not only is this dangerous for human health, but it’s also horrible for the environment. The majority of antibiotics are not assimilated by fish, but instead are discharged into the environment as waste, reportedly impacting ecosystems such as coastal mangroves.

4. Fish farming leads to overfishing in the oceans...

Despite some good intentions, it's inaccurate to argue that aquaculture will solve the problem of unsustainable fishing. The reason for this is simple: 460 to 1,100 billion fish are caught at sea each year just to feed farmed fish such as salmon or tilapia. In the case of salmon, for example, industry estimations say that more than 800g of wild fish are needed in order to produce 1kg of salmon meat — and this number doesn’t even consider bycatch, marine animals accidentally captured during sea fishing. This means that instead of just replacing open-water fishing, aquaculture is actually creating a new demand for it, which contributes to all of the hazards typically linked to the fishing industry: ocean depletion, bycatch, sea animals trapped in fishing gear, and plastic pollution.

5. … And to a myriad of other environmental impacts

Ocean depletion is not the only environmental impact of aquaculture. When a big quantity of organic material such as fish farms sediments reaches a lake, river or the sea, its decomposition makes algae bloom, which depletes the water out of oxygen and kills most life forms in that area. Known as eutrophication, this accounts for more phosphorus and nitrogen inputs than all municipal wastewater in some countries.

When cages are used in the open oceans, it's not rare that farmed fish manage to escape into wild waters. The fact that they are not native to that environment makes them invaders, which can endanger that ecosystem’s balance by threatening native species — altering their genetic configuration through interbreeding, and disseminating diseases and parasites.

Studies estimate that in some US states at least 50 new species have been unwillingly introduced into the wild by many sources, including aquaculture. In 2017, in a notorious case in Washington state, thousands of salmon were accidentally released into a Natural Area Preserve after a pen broke, which remains a big issue today.

If after all of these reasons you are convinced that fish should not be farmed nor eaten, give veganism a chance! We have prepared an e-book with several recipes to show you that it's not only possible but also delicious to leave fish out of your dish. Click here to download it for free.

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